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What could replace our hard drives for data storage?

Answer: DNA.

inside a data center
Shutterstock/Timofeev Vladimir
It’s no secret that data storage takes up a lot of space and energy, and the demand for those resources is only growing. Before we know it, we’re going to run out of room to store all of our data if we continue using current methods.

That’s why the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a branch of the federal Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is investing $48 million in research into how to store data via strands of DNA. DNA could store one exabyte of data, which is equal to 1 million terabytes, in a device that could fit on your desk. And decoding data stored as DNA would require a DNA sequencing machine, a very expensive device, thus improving the security of that data.

We already have the ability to encode data in DNA form, but it is currently a very slow and expensive process. A team from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, with some collaborators, is working on speeding up the storage process, and they just received $25 million from IARPA last month to help with their efforts. If in the future companies like Netflix and Apple are able to store their trillions of bytes of data in much smaller spaces, it would both reduce their carbon footprint while also allowing them to store even more data, creating a win-win situation.

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